Alice Murphy's heart was pounding in her chest and her stomach churned unpleasantly, but her hands were steady as they reached out seemingly of their own volition and stole the necessary potions ingredients from Professor Snape's stores. Alice was terrified of Professor Snape – she had been since she had first come to Hogwarts and that had not changed all that much even though his loyalty and heroism had been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt in the final battle against Voldemort more than three years ago. But as terrified as she was of what Professor Snape would do to her if he discovered her theft, she was more terrified of what would happen if she didn't steal these ingredients. She was in a desperate position and this was the only possible solution she could find. If she could just make this potion before anyone found out, everything would be okay. She wouldn't care what the professor did to her then; she just needed a little time.
Alice had spent the past week in a turmoil of terror, anger, and revulsion, her every spare moment focused on finding a way to fix this problem. And now the moment was here – the potion had turned a deep, shimmering red that meant it was ready. Alice ladled out the required dose, took a deep breath, and swallowed it down in three quick gulps. She stood frozen in suspense, waiting for some sign that the potion was working. After a minute, a warm tingle spread throughout her body then contracted tighter and tighter, centering over her abdomen and intensifying until it was almost painful. And then suddenly the feeling was gone and Alice knew right away that the potion had worked. She cast a quick charm on herself to be sure, then sagged to the floor in relief. Only then did she break down and weep.
Severus Snape swept into the Great Hall the next morning in a fine temper. He sat down in his regular seat and began attacking his breakfast without a word of greeting to anyone.
Most of the staff had enough sense to leave him alone when he was like this, but the young man sitting next to him only smirked, familiar as he was with other man's moods. "What has you in such a snit this morning?" he asked, knowing it would only irritate the man.
"I am not in a snit, Potter, and I am most certainly not in the mood for your inane chatter," Severus replied, turning his fiercest glare on the young DADA professor.
"Fine then, just don't take it out on the pancakes," Harry replied, not trying to hide his smirk.
Severus looked down at his plate, where there was indeed a pile of hopelessly mangled pancakes. He didn't even like pancakes. "If you must know, you meddlesome brat, I discovered this morning that someone broke into my stores overnight and helped themselves to my potions ingredients. I do not appreciate students stealing from me any more now than I did in your school days, Mr. Potter."
Harry turned his best wide-eyed, innocent look on the professor next to him. "I have no idea what you're talking about, I can't imagine anyone being crazy enough to steal from you," Harry said. "What do you plan to do about it?"
"I'm going to find the culprit," Severus replied, glaring out at the tables full of students, "and he or she will most likely be serving detention for the rest of their miserable life."
Although talking with Potter had somehow diffused his anger, Severus deliberately worked himself back into a rage before his first Potions class of the day. He needed to appear at his most threatening to suitably intimidate the students. Severus took some pleasure in the fearful silence that descended on the classroom as soon as he entered – he didn't even need to say a word to terrify the sixth year class.
Severus addressed the class, his voice soft and menacing. "It has come to my attention that a student has stolen from my private stores of potion ingredients. Be assured that the culprit has no hope of escaping detection. I would advise the guilty party to turn his or herself in at the first opportunity to have any chance of being shown mercy." His tone made it clear that mercy was unlikely.
There was complete silence for a long moment, followed by a rush of shocked whispers that were quickly hushed up by the professor's glare. He knew word would spread quickly throughout the school, but Severus didn't really expect a confession. It didn't really matter; whatever it took he would not let the thief get away with this.
As luck would have it, Alice Murphy was in the first Potions class that day and listened to Professor Snape's warning with a feeling of dread. At lunch and dinner, she heard the tales flying around the Great Hall. The warning speech had been repeated in every Potions class and there were rumors that a few students had been questioned individually. That was enough for Alice to make up her mind.
That night after dinner, Alice nervously approached Professor Snape's office. Her hand trembled as she reached out to knock on his door.
"Enter," came the familiar voice from inside, and the door clicked open in front of her.
Alice had been half hoping that the Potions Master wouldn't be in his office, but now she had no choice but to go forward with her plan. She took a deep breath and walked into the office.
Severus Snape looked up in surprise as a sixth year Ravenclaw girl, Alice Murphy, walked into his office. He recognized her of course – she was an excellent Potions student even among the Ravenclaws – but he didn't believe he had ever before spoken to her outside of class. He had the impression was that she was quite shy and while she got along well with all of her classmates she wasn't particularly close to any of them. The girl reminded him a bit of himself as a student, shy and studious, although Severus was pretty sure she had never been the target of bullies and had no interest in the Dark Arts. Severus was mystified as to why the girl would approach him.
"Ms. Murphy, have a seat, please," Severus said, hiding his confusion. "What brings you to my office this evening?"
The girl nervously perched on the edge of the chair in front of his desk, her gaze fixed on the floor in front of her. Then she took a deep breath and seemed to steel herself to look up and meet his eyes. "I wanted to tell you I'm the one who stole your potion ingredients," she said in a trembling voice, and then returned her gaze to the floor.
Severus was shocked. This quiet girl, a model student who never drew attention to herself, was the last person he would have suspected as the thief. And yet, here she was confessing. "Can you explain why you did it?"
"I needed to make a potion." She may have been willing to confess but she clearly wasn't going to volunteer a lot of detail.
"And why are you confessing?" Surely the girl knew she was unlikely to be considered as a suspect.
"I know it was wrong of me to steal. I felt that I had no other choice, but I still feel guilty about it. You said you would not give up searching for the culprit and people are saying you've been questioning students. I won't let anyone else be accused in my place." Alice was clearly terrified and could not quite meet his eyes, but her voice was steady and determined throughout this speech.
Severus was silent for a long moment, still recovering from the surprise. Something was going on here but he didn't know how to figure out what it was. Might as well try just asking her. "Tell me, Ms. Murphy, why did you need to make a potion outside of class? What was the potion for?"
The girl looked a bit panicked at that question and stuttered a bit as she said "I- I'd rather not say, sir."
Severus sighed. Of course it wouldn't be that easy. "Well, Ms. Murphy, it does speak well of you that you confessed so readily, but theft is still a very serious offense. In order to make up for this, you will serve detention every Friday evening up until the Christmas holiday."
Severus expected some reaction to this announcement – it was only two weeks into the term so that would be quite a lot of detentions. He doubted the girl had ever received a single detention in all her time at Hogwarts. But she just nodded and said "Yes, sir." Alice had expected the terrifying professor to be furious, so she was relieved to be getting off so lightly. Perhaps the professor was not as bad as she had always feared.
Severus watched her for a moment, thinking hard, then dismissed her. Her first detention would be tomorrow night. In the meantime, he would take a more carefully inventory of what was missing from his potions supplies and try to figure out what potion she had made. Maybe that would give him some clue as to where to go from here.
When Alice arrived for detention the next night, Professor Snape was sitting at his desk looking even more serious than usual as he asked her to come in and take a seat.
"Alice, I've realized something that concerns me greatly since we spoke yesterday, and I think we need to talk about it." Severus relaxed his usual formality, hoping to put her at ease with the use of her first name. "I've taken a complete inventory of exactly what is missing from my potions ingredients and I've been considering what kind of potion you could have brewed with those particular ingredients. There are only two possibilities that come to mind and both of them are quite concerning."
Alice's thoughts were racing as she tried to come up with a response. She should have known the Potions Master would be able to figure out what she had been brewing – the man knew everything about potions. She wished she knew what the other possible potion was; maybe that one would be safer to admit to. Alice chose to say nothing to incriminate herself and waited for the professor to speak again.
"One of them is a potion to cause abortion, and the other is an explosive strong enough to destroy half the castle."
Well that settled it. She could hardly claim she was plotting to blow up Hogwarts. Alice sat with her head bowed, fighting back tears. "I… It was the abortion potion, Professor. I was hoping I could keep it a secret but I guess it doesn't matter if you know now that it's done."
"Would you allow me to confirm that?" Severus asked, and when Alice nodded he cast a diagnostic charm that verified that the potion had been successful.
"Please, sir, you won't tell anyone, will you?" Alice asked, still blinking back her tears.
"You should see Madam Pomfrey, Ms. Murphy, and you are still a minor, are you not? I believe the school shall have to inform your family."
"No! Please, no, you can't, he can't find out, please," Alice begged, wild with fear.
Severus stared at the girl, surprised at the intensity of her reaction. He had a bad feeling about what could have inspired this level of fear in the child. Suddenly, Alice leapt up and ran for the door. Severus, acting on instinct alone, chased after her. He grabbed her shoulder just as she reached the door. The girl flinched violently and raised her arms to shield her head. Both of them froze in place for a shocked moment.
Severus quickly released the girl and backed away, but he also whispered a word to lock the door and prevent her escape.
"I'm sorry, sir, you just surprised me," Alice gasped, but she was still cringing away from him.
"Come now, child, I think we both know that is a flimsy excuse. I don't know why it took me so long, but I'm capable of recognizing the signs of abuse when they slap me in the face."
Alice's shoulders slumped and she stayed silent. She had kept her secret for so long and now she didn't even have the strength left to try to deny the truth.
"I can't believe I didn't notice it sooner." It seemed to clear to Severus now; no wonder the girl had reminded him of himself as a student.
"I've always been happy at Hogwarts, sir. Even during the bad years of the war and everything I've always felt at home here."
Severus thought it said a lot about the girl's situation that she had felt safer at Hogwarts than at home even during his own reign of terror as Headmaster.
"Will you tell me about it, please?"
Alice sighed and nodded. She wasn't sure if she wanted to or not, but now that the truth had been spoken aloud she felt almost compelled to talk about it. Severus reached out slowly and cautiously placed a hand on her shoulder. When she didn't resist, he guided the girl through a hidden door and sat next to her on the couch in his own private sitting room.
Alice spoke, her voice softer and steadier now. "It's a bit of a long story…"
"That's all right, take your time."
"I suppose to start at the beginning I'd have to tell you that I never knew my father. He was a Muggle and he left my mother after she told him she was a witch and that she was pregnant. I don't know which one he couldn't handle, but she always blamed me for him leaving. I knew even as a small child that she didn't care for me. My mother got married when I was eight, to a wizard this time, Richard Warwick. Her anger at my father had grown into a hatred of all Muggles and the two of them, well I guess you could say they were sympathetic to Voldemort's point of view. They ridiculed me for being a half-blood. Richard, my stepfather, was always cruel and he could be … violent. But it wasn't too bad until this past summer, after my mother died."
Alice had been speaking steadily and unemotionally to this point, but here she paused. Severus waited patiently for her to continue. He suspected her definition of 'not too bad' wouldn't match his.
"It was the night after my mother's funeral the first time he … the first time he raped me. It was such a shock, I didn't know what to do, and he wouldn't let me contact anyone anyway. It continued all summer, almost every day. I didn't think he'd let me come back to Hogwarts; it was such a relief when he did. I'd been back at school a week when I realized I was pregnant. I was in such a panic wondering what would happen if anyone found out, what Richard might do if he found out, all I could think about was getting rid of it. I didn't think of it has a baby, it was an abomination. I spent most of the next week researching and the potion was the only safe method of abortion I could find. And you know the rest. I figured as long as it was done no one could undo it and whatever consequences I had to face for the theft would be nothing compared to the consequences of not taking the potion."
Her voice had remained calm throughout and Severus didn't notice until Alice stopped speaking that there were silent tears sliding down her cheeks. Severus carefully slipped his arm around her shoulders and watched her closely for any resistance as he pulled her into a gentle hug, but she seemed too exhausted to be frightened as she leaned against him. They sat quietly like that until Alice's tears had stopped.
"I'm so sorry, child," Severus said finally. That made her look up briefly in surprise. "I'm sorry that you've had to go through all this and that you've been my student for more than five years and I never noticed anything was wrong. I'm sorry that you didn't have anyone you could trust to help you. But I promise you I will do everything in my power to help you now and won't let that bastard lay a single finger on you again."
Alice said nothing; she was clearly completely drained by the events of the evening. "It's getting late, child, and you're in no condition to be hiking back to Ravenclaw Tower. I think you should take a dose of Dreamless Sleep and you can spend the night on the couch here."
Alice was too exhausted to protest and so she soon found herself curled up on Professor Snape's couch with a blanket and pillow, slipping into a deep, potion-induced sleep. Severus waited until she was asleep then placed several unobtrusive monitoring charms on her and retreated to his own room. He stayed up late into the night, thinking about the girl and wondering how he could possibly help her.
Severus was unsurprised to find Alice was gone when he woke the next morning. He knew she would be embarrassed that she had revealed so much and she would want some distance. He sent her a note and then resolved to put the matter from his mind for a while. Severus was still worried about the child, but he trusted his monitoring charms to alert him if she were in any great distress or danger.
I wanted to assure you that I will keep what you have told me in confidence for the time being, although I do believe we will have to discuss this further at a later date. While I understand the reason for your theft, your sentence will stand and I will expect you for detention this coming Friday. I expect that we can use this time to talk further, although you are of course welcome to come see me at any time, for any reason at all. I am here if you need me.
Alice wasn't sure what to think when she received the note from Professor Snape at breakfast. She didn't think she was truly afraid of the professor anymore, but she couldn't believe she had trusted him with so many of her secrets. It was all too overwhelming. She would have to wait and see what happened at her next detention.